Can a job be a Jerkface?

If you’ve read other posts on this site, you know that my abusive marriage with Jerkface O.G. (that’s “original gangsta” for the uninitiated) ended years ago. I now have a normal, non-narcissistic husband who feels real emotions and doesn’t wish to control or oppress me for sport. Once, when I told him he was being “frustrating and annoying,” he sweetly sat next to me and wholeheartedly swore, “I don’t want to be either of those things.” *swoon*

So when I found myself in a toxic work situation last year, I was surprised and ashamed. How could I have let it happen? Why didn’t I see the signs?

Well, for starters I had just dealt with Stage 1 cancer. And I had also just moved across the country. So we can chalk up a good amount to stress.

But there were also a few warning signals that I ignored: the exec who yawned through my interview, the completely conflicting answers on priorities from my boss-to-be and that exceedingly bored exec, and, oh, the phone call post-interview where they told me both that I was perfect and that they needed to interview someone else really awesome and would get back to me in 10 days.

So yeah, just like my ex they told me they were going to be jerks, and I chose to ignore them because I REALLY wanted this job. On paper, it was exactly right for me. It was walking distance from my house! It was for a product I loved! It was in an industry in which I wanted more experience!

So even though I had more than one indication that it maybe wasn’t the healthiest place for me, I ignored those indications and pushed my doubts aside. And the irony of all this is is that I was writing a post about listening to warning signs from abusers right before my first day on the job.

Key takeaway: even those of who have been free from abusive relationships (for more than a decade in my case) can get taken by abusers at work.

So how can we non-abusers protect ourselves professionally? How can we notice the signs of potentially abusive/toxic work environments? Here’s my top 3:

  1. Take EXTRA time when you’re feeling desperate, as in financially needy, recovering from an illness or tragedy, or are just lonely and ready to get back to work. The right job will wait for you and won’t rush you to accept or start right away.
  2. Be wary and ask additional questions when you hear managers contradict each other on important issues–especially when those issues relate to the job you’d be doing.
  3. When a potential employer says something that doesn’t add up, like “you’re perfect but we’re still looking,” that’s the equivalent of a partner saying, “We should get married, but first I want to see if there’s someone better.”

In summary, TRUST YOURSELF. Trust that your perception is correct and that you’re not imagining things. Trust that toxic workplaces do exist and they will reveal themselves to you if you’re paying attention. Trust that a job can be a Jerkface.

Trust that you deserve better. 



Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.

When someone tells you they’re a jerk – BELIEVE THEM.




When someone tells you they’re a jerk – BELIEVE THEM.

You’re out on a dinner date, and s/he says with a magnetic smile, “Some people say I’m the jealous type, but I’m just really passionate when someone is as attractive as you are” and you smile back, thinking Oh, wow, they think I’m attractive. But really you should be having a hard time finishing your dinner because of the HUGE RED FLAG FREEBIE that Jerkface has just draped across the table.

When someone tells you they’re jealous, or weird about money, or crazily specific about how their partner should wear their hair, what is the appropriate response?

a) Think to yourself: Oh how sweet! They’re so honest and self-aware.

b) Start problem-solving because you are the one person who can fix this about them!

c) Get back on Tinder right after you cut this date short.

The only appropriate answer is “c.” For those of us who were groomed to answer “a” or “b” whether through family, or church, or even just society it can be hard to understand that a relationship does not equal a project. A relationship is not about “making it work,” or deciding you can deal with something. The right way to be in a relationship is to like and respect the life you have made for yourself and then select someone who will work just as fiercely as you have to protect that life.

A healthy relationship is about choosing a worthy, whole person who enhances what you already have and who you already are.

My Jerkface was certainly not going to do that for me. In fact, it seemed his goal in life was to systematically destroy everything I created for myself, including my personality. And he pretty much warned me that he was going to do this but I didn’t believe it. He gave me a frightening preview but instead of picking option C above, I picked B. Instead of thinking, This guy just told me that he will control who I see and what I wear, I thought, This guy’s last girlfriend did this to him, and I’m going to fix him with my unconditional love. 

That didn’t happen. What did happen was something you probably experienced yourself or are still experiencing now, if you’re here on this site. What happened is that I lost my friends, my career, and myself.

So how do you recognize when a jerk is telling you upfront that they’re a jerk? Listen for phrases like these:

My ex just didn’t understand me. But I can tell you’re different.

Some people think I’m an angry person, but really I just care so much.

I think that when two people really love each other, they don’t need anyone else.

I can already tell – the way we feel about each other is really special.

I‘ve always been really particular about how my dates look (or what they wear, or how they talk) – and I think you’re perfect. 

This isn’t sharing. This is testing. This is how Jerkface determines if you’ll be a willing victim.

Summary: Jerkfaces let you in on their dirty little secrets at first. Believe them when they tell you they’re going to be trouble. A normal date will consist of talking about favorite vacations, hobbies, pets, or life goals. Really. It won’t be Jerkface briefly taking down the narcissist’s mask, testing you, seeing if you’re going to be a good victim.  Decide in advance that you won’t be. 


Recommended reading:  spotting a narcissist on the first date. Also: Myth: Relationships are HARD.